by Liz Leamy
(16 January 2021) Nathan Chen, the two-time World champion and three-time U.S. titlist, easily leapt into the lead of the men’s competition at the U.S. Championships in Las Vegas earlier this afternoon, where he racked up a score of 113.92 putting him more than six points ahead of the formidable 17-member field.
The 22 year-old Salt Lake City native opened up his program to Spanish mariachi-themed music with a soaring quad Lutz and then followed it up with a huge triple Axel and triple flip-triple toe, for which he earned the highest technical scores of the afternoon, a 66.22, with his grade of execution marks averaging at plus-four for each elements.
Chen, who has been living in Irvine, California with his mother so he can train in person with his coach, Rafael Arutyunyan this past year, said he was pleased with his performance.
“I’m happy with the short,” said Chen. “I always want to be better and continue to improve.”
Chen, who completed his sophomore year at Yale University by virtual learning last spring due to the pandemic said he decided to take the a year and a half off from his studies leading into the 2022 Olympics so he can focus on preparing for this celebrated global event.
“I definitely grew a lot [from the 2018 Olympics] and I’m thankful I have another chance leading into this Olympic Games,” said Chen, adding he draws inspiration from the premiere basketball players in the National Basketball Association, including those on his favorite team, the Utah Jazz. “It’s fun to see how they hone in during high-pressure situations and and do their best.”
Vincent Zhou, the engaging 20 year-old California native who is the 2019 World bronze medalist and two-time U.S. medalist (in 2017 and 2019), scored the second-highest marks of this competition, a 107.79, for his stellar performance to Don McLean’s ‘Vincent,’ performed by Josh Groban.
Zhou, who trains in Colorado Springs with Christy Krall and who was remarkably cool and confident in his whole demeanor, reeled off a high quad Lutz-triple toe, quad toe and triple Axel from running back three turns with visible ease, strength and fluidity.
According to Zhou, it’s all about achieving the summit in whatever endeavors he pursues, saying he is inspired by the famous Pikes Peak mountains every time he goes to the Broadmoor World Arena to train.
“Skating like I did today is really the beginning of a summit climb,” said Zhou to members of the media after his short program. “I look at the mountains and imagine myself ascending.”
Zhou also has been focusing on the positive aspects of the pandemic in regard to his skating, saying this challenging period has given him ample time to focus on his training.
“This year has been a little different,” said Zhou. “I really got a solid period of training. There’s a front and back in everything.”
Jason Brown, the dynamic 2015 U.S. champion and three-time U.S. medalist, earned the third-best marks of this showdown, a 100.92, for his mesmerizing program to the Alvin Ailey-inspired piece, ‘Sinnerman,’ performed by Nina Simone.
Brown delivered technically, artistically and otherwise with this program, putting 100 percent into every step, movement and element, something that was reflected in his component scores, the highest of the competition, a 48.80. (Chen earned a 47.70 for his components.)
For this Chicago area native, who has been residing in Toronto for most of the past year so he could train with Brian Orser and Tracey Wilson, being at Nationals was a privilege.
“I kind of felt like the racehorse waiting to go back on the racetrack,” said Brown, who last competed at the 2020 Four Continents Championships where he scored silver 11 months ago. “This event was a long time coming.”
Brown said he was happy with his program, designed by the iconic choreographer, Rohene Ward, especially as it was the first time he had ever skated it at a competition this season.
“It’s a [challenging] program and I give it my all when I do it,” said Brown, 26. “I’ve been working on the program and adapting it as I move forward.”
For Brown and Ward, this represents a particularly special program much like the former’s signature 2014 free skate, (designed by the latter) which, to date, stands as the most watched figure skating video on YouTube, with more than five million hits.
“When Rohene brought this piece to me, he had the same excitement as when he created and developed ‘Riverdance,” said Brown. “I love to perform, I love to skate and Rohene can see the extent of my skating more than I can.”
Over the past year, Brown said he has used the training time to develop this program intensively.
“I’ve been making the most of those seven months [since resuming training in June following the pandemic quarantine period] which gave me the opportunity to really develop it and mold it,” said Brown. “[Rohene] is so particular about shapes, lines, staccato and fluidity and I think it’s just going to develop into something really special.”